County Advances Cannabis Social Equity Program As City Contemplates Future of Its Program

News Date

As the City of San Diego contemplates the future of its cannabis equity program as part of its budget, the County Board of Supervisors took several actions today to advance social equity programs to help people negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis benefit from the now-legal marketplace in California. 

“The cannabis industry in San Diego County is continuing to grow, but not in a way that recognizes the many people who were significantly harmed by laws criminalizing cannabis, a product that corporations are now swooping in to make millions from,” said Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, vice chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This vote shows the County is not stopping in its work to provide entrepreneurs from marginalized communities with greater opportunities to secure a cannabis business operating permit.”

The goal of the County’s Cannabis Social Equity Program is to ensure that those negatively or adversely affected by cannabis criminalization are provided with the opportunity to successfully participate in the regulated cannabis market, and for people and communities impacted by the War on Drugs to receive assistance and benefits. 

The Board voted to provide policy direction on Social Equity Program eligibility criteria, an ordinance to implement the program, and a structure for the program’s oversight body. 

The main criteria for qualifying for the Social Equity Program is whether one was incarcerated, deported, arrested, or convicted for a cannabis related crime in San Diego County prior to November 8, 2016, and whether one meets a low income threshold of 80 percent of the area’s median income. 

The Board also approved a Cannabis Social Equity Ordinance Matrix, which sets the following rules for County-licensed cannabis business:

  • A three-year window for social equity cannabis businesses to start their cannabis licensing process once licensing becomes available. Non-social equity businesses cannot obtain a cannabis license until this period has ended. This will give social equity businesses a leg up in finding partners, securing capital, and opening their doors before larger and/or well funded non-social equity operators enter the market through the County. 

  • A ceiling of 25 licenses for cannabis storefront businesses (there are currently five), a limit which could be increased in the future based upon an economic study or other analysis. Based on public input, this ceiling would not apply to other cannabis license types like manufacturing, distribution, delivery, cultivation, and testing. 

  • At least 50 percent of storefront retailer licenses are reserved for social equity applicants. This would mean there would be 13 storefront retailer spots (of the 25 allowed in the initial period) reserved for social equity during the social equity three-year window.

  • An eligible individual under the Social Equity Program must have a minimum 51 percent equity share in a cannabis business for a business to qualify. In order to receive social equity benefits such as being eligible for grant funding and to apply during the recommended social equity three-year social equity window for a cannabis business license, the business must meet this requirement.

The Board also approved the creation of an oversight group called the Cannabis Oversight Community Collaborative. This body will report back to the Board of Supervisors on an annual basis on how the cannabis social equity program is doing, what the community feels is working, and what the community has expressed dissatisfaction for. It can also assist in informing how to utilize grant funding, what programming is necessary to be added, what programming may not be necessary, and the design, implementation and evaluation of the Social Equity Program. 

The group will be made up of nine maximum members. One member would be appointed by each supervisor’s office and the other four seats would be appointed through an application process. 

Read the entire policy here.